Fretting and stewing in our own neurotic juices

Buddhists teach a concept called the second arrow.

It’s when a person encounters something that leads to pain, and then launches into a whole chorus of mental processes that lead to more suffering, often adding more pain than was there originally.

The first arrow is our reality, like tripping over a crack in the sidewalk and face planting into dog poop.

The second arrow is the sense of unworthiness we inflict upon ourselves in response to that reality, like calling ourselves an idiot and wondering, why do things like this always and only happen to me?

Everyone is guilty of this habit. Some of us are better archers than others, but in general, most people get impaled by those second arrows on a daily basis.

Probably because they have not taken the time to learn how to act compassionately towards themselves.

Because the default mode most of us go into is rumination. Fretting and stewing in our own neurotic juices. Dwelling, and then beating ourselves up about negative past events, only making things worse.

There is quite a bit of research on second arrow behavior, most notably around the habit of rumination. Many of the studies include questionnaires, which are fascinating to read.

If you want to gauge your own ruminative tendencies, here are several questions you might try asking yourself.

*When you have an embarrassing or awkward moment, do you go over it again and again?

*Is your attention often focused on aspects of yourself you wish you’d stop thinking about?

*Do you always seem to be rehashing in your mind recent things you’ve said or done?

*Will your thoughts keep going back to what happened, long after an argument or disagreement is over with?

Rumination has always been a struggle of mine. Whether it’s regarding a project at work, a relationship issue, or a random encounter with a stranger on the train, the same pesky thoughts will keep going through my mind again and again, preventing me from focusing on other things.

I’ll get stuck on certain issues and can’t move on, feeling unable to do anything else while thinking about my problems. Thank god for antidepressants.

Indeed, the second arrow behavior is a bitch. But the wisdom here to consider effort and impact. To step back and think rationally about our ruminative behaviors and realize the squeeze isn’t worth the juice. Those thoughts are not serving us.

Dwelling on our many problems without solving any of them, that’s masochism.

Thinking in expansive and unfocused ways that multiply rather than reduce our stress, that’s mutilation.

Continuous and pressured thinking without a beginning and end, and without leading to resolution, that’s madness.

What would be more life giving would be feelings of momentum and progress and hope.

It’s true that our thoughts often come to our minds without us wanting them to, but how we choose to respond to them changes everything.

How are you shooting yourself in the foot?


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